October 1, 2015
As the global population and cities continue to grow, so do challenges in environmental control and management of chemical, physical, and biological factors that impact human health. For example, rodents present major public health issues in that they reduce the quality of life, destroy agricultural crops, and contaminate resources in protein production facilities. They also present a major burden as carriers of serious and often life-threatening disease agents that can be transmitted to humans.
Small businesses often rise to the occasion and address these challenges by developing novel technologies that are needed to improve public health.
SenesTech is an innovative animal health company that offers novel, humane strategies to manage rodent and pest populations by targeting their ability to reproduce. Importantly, the company’s species-specific products are environmentally sustainable and, when used as directed, do not affect non-target animals or impact human health and fertility. The products offer promising solutions to reduce disease. They also limit dependence on traditional pest control methods, such as rodenticides, which can be attractive to children because of their bright color and sweet taste, and sometimes lead to accidental childhood poisionsings.
SenesTech co-founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Loretta Mayer, Ph.D., briefly described how an animal research model created momentum for the SenesTech vision – to improve human health and quality of life through pest control. “The company vision grew out of a sterile female rodent model that was developed for women’s health research,” Mayer explained. “From this model, ideas emerged for a technology with more practical application targeting wildlife and pest management issues.”
The rodent model was engineered to undergo a loss of follicles and yielded a striking resemblance to the reduced ovulation, or natural loss of eggs, seen in post-menopausal women. Using findings from this rodent model and funds from the Small Business Programs (SBIR/STTR) program, Mayer and colleagues began working on proof-of-concept, as well as early-stage research and development of an oral bait product that could reduce rat ovulation. They later discovered that an oral bait containing a combination of two primary ingredients, 4-vinylcyclohexene diepoxide and triptolide, was not only effective at significantly reducing ovulation in female rats but also at reducing fertility in male rats, as well.
Strategic Partnerships Facilitate Expansion of SenesTech’s Lead Product
SenesTech’s lead product, ContraPest®, offers a revolutionary solution for an age-old, worldwide problem – the proliferation of rats in urban and agricultural settings. The product comes in the form of a non-lethal bait that is readily consumed and causes both male and female rats to become permanently infertile.
SenesTech Honored with 2015 Tibbetts Award
The U.S. Small Business Administration presented a Tibbetts Award to SenesTech during a ceremony held at the White House on June 15, 2015.
The Tibbetts Award recognizes scientists who have demonstrated economic impacts and excellence in their technological innovations.
“A major attribute that contributes to SenesTech’s success is the culture of translating a technology that has a strong humanitarian component,” Mayer stated.
Funding and technical assistance through other programs, such as the NIH/NIEHS SBIR Niche Assessment and Commercialization Accelerator programs, has enabled the expansion of ContraPest® to various customers and strategic partners. For example, SenesTech has established a licensing and manufacturing agreement with partner Neogen, which owns the company’s second manufacturing facility, located in Wisconsin. SenesTech has worked with strategic partners to pilot test the product among subway systems within the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority. They currently are working with the Chicago Transit Authority and the City of Somerville, outside of Boston, to determine the product’s effectiveness for rodent control in urban transit systems and surrounding areas. They also are working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture at its National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins, Colorado and its field station in Hilo, Hawaii to conduct further studies on different species of rats.
SenesTech is planning to extend the global reach of ContraPest® by partnering with international organizations. “We have recently [begun] discussions with the World Food Programme (Rome) and look forward to the announcement of another large international partnership, which could potentially expand to 19 countries in southeast Asia,” Mayer stated.
Although ContraPest® is currently only available for use in field studies approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the company anticipates EPA registration of the product in the near future. This will ensure successful marketing, commercialization, and sale of the product in the coming years.
Moving Forward: Testing Pipeline Products and Responding to Global Health Needs
Other SenesTech products, such as Eradirat™ and ChemSpay™, have been developed and are quickly approaching early-stage research and field trials. An offshoot of ContraPest®, Eradirat™ is a totally green product that is designed for use in and around food handling facilities.
The development of ChemSpay™ grew out of an interest in managing feral dog populations that transmit rabies in places like India, China, and West Africa. “In northern India, rabies kills somewhere between 55,000 and 60,000 children a year,” stated Mayer. “From a global health perspective, this is a very significant issue.” The product also offers a promising solution for managing overpopulations of stray dogs in the U.S., primarily on Native American reservations.